Thursday 19 September 2019

Kiss is nervy ahead of European bow

Les Kiss
Les Kiss

Ruaidhri O’Connor

Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss is wary of overconfidence ahead of his first European game in charge of the province against Oyonnax on Saturday.

The northern province face the French newcomers, English champions Saracens and four-time Heineken Cup winners Toulouse in a tough pool, but despite failing to emerge from their pool last season they have plenty of European pedigree of their own.

"I would be hard-pressed to say that we are favourites in the group. But I'm not sure you could say we are underdogs," the former Ireland assistant said.

"It is a big challenge in a loaded pool. Oyonnax is tough at home, but that is the challenge which we knew when the draw came out and we have to steel ourselves to meet that challenge.

"Saracens are the team that can have a big tilt at Europe as their history shows they know how to play cup rugby and can rightly say that they can win this competition. With Toulouse in the group as well and without long-term coach Guy Noves, they are still responding well.

"Hopefully they will do a job on each other. Yes, we will sit back and watch with interest but we must get our stuff right."

Kiss is bolstered by the return of Andrew Trimble (ankle), Louis Ludik (knee), Nick Williams (hamstring), Luke Marshall (hand) and Roger Wilson (concussion) from their injuries for their visit to the foothills of the Jura mountains.

Ulster have been training on an artificial surface at Ravenhill in preparation for the game which will be played on the 3G pitch at the Stade Charles-Mathon.

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"Oyonnax fought hard to get into Europe last year. They were exceptional at home on a 3G pitch, and they will be hungry and would like nothing more than to say their first ever tilt at European level was a victory. So that's what scares me, they will be right up for it," Kiss said.

"They are very comfortable on that pitch. It becomes a quicker game, and you need to be sure of foot. You can see when they play on it, their power men gain their purchase and power over the ground quickly and get their momentum and they have some powerful boys in that team."

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